Let’s Ask Students About Their Programs, Automatically

Teemu Lehtinen, André Santos, Juha Sorva

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference article in proceedingsScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Students sometimes produce code that works but that its author does not comprehend. For example, a student may apply a poorly-understood code template, stumble upon a working solution through trial and error, or plagiarize. Similarly, passing an automated functional assessment does not guarantee that the student understands their code. One way to tackle these issues is to probe students’ comprehension by asking them questions about their own programs. We propose an approach to automatically generate questions about student-written program code. We moreover propose a use case for such questions in the context of automatic assessment systems: after a student’s program passes unit tests, the system poses questions to the student about the code. We suggest that these questions can enhance assessment systems, deepen student learning by acting as self-explanation prompts, and provide a window into students’ program comprehension. This discussion paper sets an agenda for future technical development and empirical research on the topic.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2021 IEEE/ACM 29th International Conference on Program Comprehension, ICPC 2021
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-6654-1403-6
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2021
MoE publication typeA4 Conference publication
EventInternational Conference on Program Comprehension - Virtual, Online
Duration: 20 May 202121 May 2021
Conference number: 29

Publication series

NameProceedings/IEEE International Conference on Program Comprehension
ISSN (Electronic)2643-7171


ConferenceInternational Conference on Program Comprehension
Abbreviated titleICPC
CityVirtual, Online


  • automatic assessment
  • automatic question generation
  • program comprehension
  • programming education
  • self-explanation


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